It’s been a disastrous six years for Toronto FC. Since their inception in 2007, they’ve been the epitome of ineptitude in Major League Soccer. This year, however, Kevin Payne was appointed President. The club began to operate more professionally and appeared to have it right from a business point of view. Ryan Nelsen’s arrival showed what the TFC hierarchy want from their gaffer; a hard-nosed manager who can develop youngsters and fix a defence that conceded a league worst 62 goals last year. No one got too ahead of themselves, though, as the on-field product was yet to be seen. It’s still early in the campaign, but after two games, everything seems to be coming full circle for the Reds.
Despite losing 1-0 in their opener to the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place, there were positives to take from that match. Firstly, the performances of draft picks Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshmen showed everyone that the future is bright for the club and Canada’s national team. Second, striker Robbie Earnshaw impressed, even without scoring. The key from that fixture was the strong defensive display which is something that’s been missing from Toronto for almost seven years. Even goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who’s replacing the injured Stefan Frei, looked solid in his first appearance for his new side.
Fast forward to March 9th for TFC’s home opener against Sporting Kansas City, and the trends continued. Pre-match, a lot of focus was on Ashtone Morgan and Reggie Lambe’s ability to shut down dangerous SKC winger Graeme Zusi. It’s no coincidence that the Kansas City offence struggled because of Zusi being nullified from the tilt. Even though they conceded in the 77th minute, Toronto did a brilliant job of closing down the 2012 Eastern Conference champions.
One difference from Toronto’s game against Vancouver compared to the Kansas City encounter was that the attack showed up in the latter match. Earnshaw finally got service from the likes of Hogan Ephraim and new signing John Bostock who is on loan from Tottenham. It was Bostock who ended up winning a penalty that Earnshaw buried past Jimmy Nielsen to give Toronto a 2-0 lead on 21 minutes. Bostock made the formation a 4-3-3 as opposed to the outlined 4-4-1-1 since he often joined Ephraim centrally, and that’s the beauty of Bostock. The 20 year old midfielder can play out wide or through the middle. With his contract expiring in June combined with his young age, he’ll fit nicely into the “rebuild” model should he sign with TFC permanently.
With Luis Silva and Stefan Frei close to returning from injuries, the squad’s only going to get stronger. Frei has been one of the few bright spots over TFC’s run of futility and with him back in net fully fit and Silva’s technique and pace, Toronto will be a very difficult team to play against. They may not make the playoffs in 2013, but they won’t be bottom of the table. They very well could be similar to the Columbus Crew of last year; a team without high profile players, but one that has chemistry and will improve as the season goes on. TFC is now led by a knowledgeable manager who makes the most of his on field personnel, and if their early success is any indicator, they will be a strong competitor.